NEW YORK—American travelers will hit the road, skies, and seas in larger numbers this summer than last year, according to senior travel executives at the ninth annual Leisure Travel Summit in New York last week. The four summit panelists from Best Western International, U.S. Travel Association, AAA, and Digital DNA Infusion all observed that despite the leisure travel market continuing to heat up, consumers remain keen to get the most for their travel dollar.
“I think the most important thing is that what leisure travelers still want, and have probably always wanted, is value,” said David Atkins, principal at the digital management consultancy firm Digital DNA Infusion. “Whether that’s a deal or an add-on (such as free breakfast), there are all of these ways you can communicate value to the customer. So to me, value doesn’t necessarily mean price reduction.”
“Americans are ready to travel this summer. AAA travel agents are reporting strong summer sales particularly in cruising,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA vice president of travel services. “A rise in ‘home port’ cruises departing from ports nearer to a traveler’s home also leads to more drive trips and overnight hotel stays for a number of travelers.”
Sutherland agreed that value continues to be top of mind for Americans who want to get the most out of their vacation investment, whether they are taking a family road trip, romantic getaway, or a family reunion cruise. A recent AAA survey showed that the most important reasons people use a travel agent are they are a knowledgeable resource and they know how to get the best deals and save money.
The recent brutal winter that impacted much of the United States is another factor driving demand for the summer travel season, said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Best Western International. Advance booking numbers at Best Western’s 2,200 North American properties show an 11 percent jump in room nights compared to last summer. Additionally, Best Western’s recent “I Dream of Summer” content campaign drew more than 30,000 entrants building their ideal summer getaway on Facebook and generated the highest levels of repeat engagement the brand has seen on social media.
“We do believe this summer is going to be extraordinarily strong,” Dowling said. “We know that memories are created on summer vacations, and we think Americans will be investing in the opportunities to build memories with their families.”
The positive impact time off has on families is at the center of U.S. Travel Association’s new Travel Effect campaign, which was the kick-off topic during the summit. Gary Oster, U.S. Travel’s executive vice president of member services, said that though the numbers clearly show the health and business benefits of time off, Americans continue to leave unused days on the table. Not taking this time off has a negative impact on everyone’s bottom line.
“We need to start a national conversation around the importance of taking earned time off,” explained Oster about Travel Effect. “This is a country that is 24/7, always on, go-go-go, and it’s taking a toll on our economy, business, and our personal well-being. If we all took just one more day, Americans would be happier and healthier; businesses would benefit from refreshed, focused employees; and the American economy would see increased spending and tax revenue.”
When Americans do take the time off for vacation, more of them are doing it with grandparents and grandchildren. AAA survey data shows that 36 percent of Americans plan to travel with multiple generations, a 4 percent jump over last year. Panelists predicted that the multigenerational travel trend will remain on the uptick and needs to be catered to by everyone in the industry.
“It is becoming something quite significant,” Sutherland urged. “Multigenerational travel is growing and will continue to grow as a segment in travel.”
One of the factors spurring the trend towards multigenerational travel is social media. Atkins pointed specifically to the high number of baby boomers on Facebook, where they are now the largest growth category. This digital connection helps families share ideas and inspiration during the travel planning process.
“It’s very easy for a millennial to communicate with a grandparent on Facebook and say, ‘Hey, here are some of the ideas I’ve got for travel,’” Atkins said.
While more family members are weighing in on the travel planning, panelists agreed women remain the primary decision makers when it comes to purchasing. Though women may hold the purse strings, their decisions are made with others in mind. Dowling shared data from a new Best Western Female Travel Summer Survey with Wakefield Research that revealed 90 percent of U.S. women frequently put the needs and wants of others over their own when planning summer vacation.
“The significant other tends to be the first consideration in the decision-making process,” Dowling said. “Children are, of course, the other influence when it comes to making that vacation relevant for women.”
Though the summer travel outlook is unquestionably bright, Oster added a note of caution that increased travel means more wear and tear on America’s increasingly outdated infrastructure. For the country to continue to compete effectively for global travel dollars, money has to be spent improving the means by which people reach their destinations.
“Our country needs to invest—and this is not a cost, it’s an investment—in improved travel infrastructure,” Oster said. “Improved roads, bridges, rails, and airports will ensure a vibrant economy.”